Women’s Day Honored by Panel of Professors
“I want to be nervous and I want to stutter over the idea of women’s rights,” said Professor of Gender and Women Studies Wendy Kozol, “[because] whose rights are being represented?”
This sentiment of complexity commenced the March 8 opening round-table panel of Oberlin’s 95th annual International Women’s Day.
This year the panel’s theme was “Feminist Activism in the Age of U.S. Empire.” Kozol and Frances Hasso of the gender and women’s studies department along with professors Pam Brooks and Meredith Gadsby of the African-American studies department used this focus as a filter to speak on international women’s experiences with activism, health care and literature.
Kozol began the discussion by speaking about the popular conception of women’s rights held in the United States, and how it may not necessarily be applicable to all other nations.
For example, the prevailing American attitude towards women of the Middle East is to see them as victims, but according to Kozol that is not always accurate. National Geographic depicts the women of Iraq and Afghanistan who don’t wear traditional attire as “liberated women.” They are spoken of as having been rescued by the United States, but this sentiment, Kozol emphasized, may simply be the result of differing conceptions of women’s rights from culture to culture.
Brooks, following Kozol, began her talk by reminding the audience that the issues of International Women’s Day should not be disregarded in the world outside of the event. She pushed for people to address these issues in day-to-day life.
Brooks went on to discuss the African-American women she knew fighting for equal rights in various locations around the nation.
“[For them,] performing community work means performing activism,” said Brooks.
The women engaging in these activities are greatly affected by a long history of slavery, racism and oppression.
“[Their past] colors how they understand themselves and their futures,” said Brooks. “Many of these women have a history of being fighters.”
Gadsby spoke next, addressing the complexity of women’s health care, as well as the importance of literature in shaping the concept of feminism.
In regards to health, Gadsby directly addressed the hazards specifically targeting African-American women. The largest percentage of those suffering from HIV/AIDS is African-American women, with Latin-American women close behind.
But perhaps the most overlooked issue plaguing this demographic is mental health problems. Gadsby spoke of the prevalent myth of the “black super-woman,” which makes it challenging to discuss psychological difficulties caused by racism and exploitation.
She then spoke on authors Toni Cade Bambara and Octavia Butler, whose literature dealt with African-American women’s issues, and their importance in articulating women’s experience.
“Writing is never a frivolous act,” said Gadsby. “Many of us write in order to survive.”
Hasso closed the event by discussing her new book, Resistance, Repression, and Gender Politics in Occupied Palestine and Jordan. Hasso told the audience about her numerous trips back to Palestine and her interest in the women of that region. She spoke of her relationship with the women’s group Palestinian Federation of Women’s Action Committees and the role of women in the Palestinian uprising. The group lost power in the 1980s and 1990s, but until then, they were a powerful voice in the Palestinian struggles.
In the end, the panel was about recognizing both the differences in women’s experiences and the passions that bind them.
Brooks said, “We see women as powerful in their activism anywhere
around the world.”